Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Macklemore & Embittered Queens: Why we (get to) bite the hand that feeds us

There's been a lot of pushback against Macklemore and Ryan Lewis lately (longer, if you've been paying attention), the song "Same Love," and the recent Grammys performance. There's also been a tug of war happening among queers, queers of color, and our allies. There are those who are critical of Macklemore and Lewis and those who believe they should be left alone, appreciated for their contribution(s), and lauded for their bravery.

Well here's my take:

Macklemore and Lewis are doing just fine. They won their awards, they're rolling in cash and enjoying the fame. They don't need my approval or that of similarly embittered queens (one of the many nicknames given to those who dare speak critically or ill of Macklemore the Messiah). And I'm not sure they need to be defended, but I'm not the one defending them, so I'll leave that alone.

Since the Grammys, I've been reposting (on Facebook) articles that are critical of the artists, the song, or the performance. Articles written mostly by queer/people of color, written in blogs, maybe one written for a major online platform. I agree with some, others I think are a stretch. But my full approval isn't why I repost. I repost because these voices matter to me. I want to read counter perspectives from within the people who stand to the left of political consciousness. This isn't to say that people who are supporting the song, the artists, or the performance are centrist or conservative, but it illustrates, in ways I think are useful, how we are not a monolithic body, despite having similar or somewhat similar politics. I think this is good. We should have these types of dialogues and the occasional fight.

The latest piece I reposted is by Tyler Coates, titled "Queer Rapper Le1f Speaks Out Against Macklemore: Why 'Same Love' Doesn't Speak for the LGBT Community." Some things in the post I agree with, others I don't. But I did find the following words in the piece to be hilarious: "'Same Love' is Acceptance for Dummies." I think that's funny. And profound. 

Is this type of humor snarky? Yeah. Is it catty? Yeah. Is it mean? Probably. Is it true? For me, yes. Yes, it is. And I think that's the point. People are reacting. I'm reacting. We're reacting to what we feel is an onslaught of normalization, of having our lives and experiences told for us, of being assimilated, of being incorporated. We protest that the incorporation and acceptance is not for the wholeness of who we are, but of a watered-down, bland version of ourselves that is unthreatening and palatable. We are the ones being changed so that society can accept us, the problem is rooted in us, not the poisoned society that chooses who to accept and who to discard (the history of racism in this country is an excellent example of how this works).

Many people holding left-of-center politics are defending Macklemore and Lewis, "Same Love," and the Grammys performance. I think this has value, too. I want to hear and read why like-minded people think what Macklemore and Lewis are doing through "Same Love" is good. There's value in what my peers think. However, what I don't value is the argument that a critique is impolite, churlish, or disrespectful of Macklemore and Lewis, and by extension, every ally who ever lived. We don't even get to question. It's like Sunday bible school all over again. 

Like I said, these white straight men are doing just fine. We, on the other hand, are not. Perhaps we need to revisit what "ally" means and what it takes to be an ally. And while I don't think we'll come up with a universally-accepted definition, it's a good exercise to have. My definition of ally is not one who does things for us, but with us, on our terms, and led by our leadership. This is what it means for me to be an ally to women and to trans* folks. If Macklemore and Lewis are to be the hand that feeds us equality, it should come as no surprise that some of us will bite that hand.

I'm not going to stop being critical or unpacking layers, or over-processing things. The reason I have been adamant about posting things that are critical of "Same Love" and the two pop rappers is because I get to. We get to. I don't care if it's tasteless in the eyes of their existing fans or recent fans garnered by these allies' benevolence. Being pleasant to others' taste buds is not what critiques are for. They're meant to agitate, to engage, to raise questions.

I want to be exchanging ideas, grappling with these issues, and occasionally even fighting with like-minded people. I don't care what conservatives think about my opinions, I don't care what they think is homophobic or racist or not. It's not my job to worry about that, and it's certainly not my job to educate them. Other, better equipped people are doing that work, not me. I'm not in conversation with people who are still debating on the level of Racism, Classism, or Sexism 101. They can debate with someone else. Not me.

I'm in conversation with my communities-- radical, queer/folks of color, and socially conscious white and straight folks. This is why I post these critiques on my wall, because I think it's important that we engage each other, that we exchange ideas, that we agree, that we disagree, that we let multiple truths exist simultaneously.

In the case of Macklemore and Lewis and "Same Love," I would expect people to push back. There is a long and strong history of queer/people of color pushing back on things that don't sit well in our bodies. A lot of us push back. We push back against things that smell of normalization. We push back against White Messiahs. We push back against words like "acceptance" and "tolerance." We push back against a mainstreaming of who we are. And we get to do that. I don't care if it's uncouth or uncivil, maybe it's supposed to be. 

I find the lyrics in "Same Love" to be pedestrian, regurgitated key words that over the years have been used by liberals and HRC alike to try to fold queer folks into the poisoned fabric of society. "Same Love" is conditional love. There were no obvious signs of queer freaks being married at the Grammys. Instead, we were brought to tears by the unions of respectable-looking and well-groomed couples. And good for them, I have no beef with the newlyweds-- their lives, their bodies.

I do have beef (a huge slab of wagyu) with people force-feeding me what the on-air mass wedding was supposed to mean: the acceptance of gays and lesbians into society. I know this acceptance would include me if I combed my hair, covered my tattoos with a crisp over-starched shirt, reverted my relationship into monogamy, mispronounced my name, and behaved like the good Baptist boy I was raised to be. But that's not the movement I want to be a part of. A movement that eagerly embraces the acceptance of some over the rejection of others is not my movement.

I hear people say that the problem bitter queens (like myself) have is not really with the song, but that it's sung by a white straight dude. That if the song were sung by, say, a Black rapper (something Macklemore suggests isn't really possible: "If I was gay, I would think hip hop hates me") or maybe a Black gay rapper, we would be fine. Well, not necessarily. The song is problematic on its own merits. Here are just two examples:

"it's all the same love" 

Well, there's a spoonful of forced assimilation. This, as with all things I write, is informed by how I understand the world: I believe love is a social construction, not some supernatural force that comes down on us like a horny dove. I believe love is beautiful, but not celestial, and certainly not monochromatic. My queerness is beautiful because it is different, I am different, and I believe there's value in this. So when I hear that "it's all the same love," I cringe. I don't think it is. I think all love is beautiful and worthy of being affirmed, not because it's all the same, but because love is what each of us make of it in whatever configuration we choose to manifest it.

2) "we all come from the same one [god]" 

This is what new wave Christians say to passive aggressively insult people of other faiths. It asserts the supremacy of a monotheistic way of believing; it asserts, in the name of acceptance, that there is a god (so f*ck you, atheists); and, let's be honest, it says that the one same god is the one white Christian god.

These two examples alone are enough to raise my blood pressure. So, no, that a white straight dude sings this song is not the only problem. The problems become compounded, not only because of the assumed benevolence of the artists and the song, but because the critical bunch are told that we're over thinking it, that we should just let it go and stop blowing things out of proportion. But for us, the proportions are already huge, and the critics of the critics know that. If this weren't a big deal, people wouldn't be in tears watching the on-air ceremonies. Let's just admit that it's all a big deal, the song lyrics, the Grammy weddings, all of it is huge and has implications. We can disagree on what those implications may be, but to ask the embittered queens to stop making things bigger than they are through our critiques and rants, is simply disingenuous.

I understand that what Macklemore and Lewis' "Same Love" envisions touches people's hearts (I think Mary Lambert's hook is beautiful, despite disagreeing with its "choice" quandary), and perhaps this is why being critical of the artists or the song causes disappointment and anger toward those of us whose hearts aren't moved in the same way. We're complicated beings and we're hurting. People who love and desire like us are being hunted down around the world, laws are being passed to criminalize who we are, we're being murdered, we're being denied access to justice-- our wounds are open. 

I can see how the idea of "Same Love" offers respite. How you may think that if society just accepted us, we could stop having to fight to survive. How being able to marry the one we love would affirm who we are and put an end to lifetimes of discrimination, of violence, of exclusion. I can see how equality feels like a good goal, how if only we were all treated equally, all our suffering would come to an end.

But we don't all agree with you, and at some point, that has to be ok. I'm hurting, too. I want to see an end to global persecution, an end to the violence, an end to laws that restrict our freedom. I also want the suffering to end. Except, I don't agree that acceptance, tolerance, marriage, hate crimes legislation, or on-air weddings will end the suffering, definitely not for all of us. So I push back, others push back, because we carry this conviction, this belief that what is needed for all of us to be free is to rid social fabrics of their poison before we wrap ourselves in them. That freedom doesn't come from acceptance, but from living in a world where people don't need acceptance because they are honored for who they are. That freedom is not found in a society where people tolerate each other, but a society where people are valued and affirmed. Freedom is living in a world where Mary Lambert no longer sings: "And I can't change. Even if I tried. Even if I wanted to," because in that world, it wouldn't matter.

So we can disagree about the critiques I and others have about Macklemore and Lewis, "Same Love," or the Grammys performance, and I will have this conversation with you. But if your disagreement is about whether I get to have a critical opinion in the first place, you and I are no longer in conversation.


  1. Someone posted this on Facebook; I'm so glad they did. You just wrote what I tried to say, but better. You're bookmarked. I think my Macklemore convo starts at abou 20 min, but don't waste your time. Read you again and keep crankin out that real talk

  2. There are so many uneducated assertions of the meanings of the phrases in the lyrics that I don't even know where to begin. -_-
    I guess the most glaring one is your deconstruction of the phrase "same love." The way it is used in the context of his song suggests he means it to have the same meaning as "One Love"

    One love refers to the universal love and respect expressed by all people for all people, regardless of any identifiers that can be placed on an individual.

    That alone is enough to make me roll my eyes at this entire post. I mean, have you ever even heard of Bob Marely? I think, the people like yourself who are so upset about this are suffering from a mixture of jealousy, assumptions, misinformation, uneducated guesses as to the meaning of the song, and a massive dose of "playing the victim."

    These artists have done nothing but show love and support to a community that has been suffering, and they get this kind of drivel in return. Its sad, really.

    1. Oh, sweetness. Your biases are getting in the way of your being able to actually read what I wrote. Perhaps a re-read or 4 might help. I'm sorry that you're sad, but that might be a product of your critical capacity, not my blog post.